MADISON, Wis. — The state Department of Corrections wants Gov. Scott Walker to spend millions of dollars in the next budget to add nurses and security staff at Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison, but the new positions wouldn’t be enough to satisfy federal law.
Walker’s administration released state agencies’ 2017-19 budget requests on Friday. Corrections’ request calls for $1 million to hire nine nurses to administer medication at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, the state’s joint youth prison in Irma.
The agency also wants $1.3 million to create 8.25 additional counselor positions to help the prison come into compliance with staff-to-juvenile ratios mandated by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Corrections’ request includes a memo saying that until recently counselors have been handing out inmates’ medication. The memo notes that delivering medication by non-health care staff is recognized nationally as unsafe and could open the door to lawsuits.
“Patient medication requires a scientific knowledge and an understanding of the patient’s basic and complex health needs,” the memo said.
The agency has started moving toward having nurses administer medications at the prison but the facility needs more nurse positions before all the responsibility will shift from security staff to nurses, the memo said.
Another memo attached to the request states that the Prison Rape Elimination Act will require all juvenile prisons to maintain a minimum 1-to-8 staff-to-juvenile ratio during waking hours and a 1-to-16 ratio during sleeping hours by October 2017. If the agency doesn’t achieve compliance, it could lose nearly $36,000 in federal funding annually.
The girls’ side of the prison currently meets those ratios but the boys’ side can’t because it hasn’t received enough money, the memo said. Lincoln Hills currently averages a 1-to-12 waking ratio and 1-to-26 sleeping ratio and would need 57.75 positions to comply with PREA. The memo acknowledges 8.25 positions won’t be enough to achieve compliance but doesn’t say why the agency didn’t ask for all 57.5 positions. Pressed on why the agency didn’t ask for all the positions, Department spokesman Tristan Cook would say only that the agency was moving toward compliance.
Federal investigators are currently investigating widespread allegations of staff abusing inmates at the youth prison. Allegations have ranged from claims of sexual assault to misconduct in public office.
The state Department of Justice initiated the probe last year but the investigation didn’t come to light until December, when agents raided the prison. The FBI has since taken over the investigation. Former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall resigned in February amid bruising headlines.
Highlights from other agency requests include:
—The Department of Natural Resources wants to cut 9.5 positions. An agency spokesman said the positions are federally funded four-year positions whose terms are expiring. The positions’ duties include managing internet content, measuring lake water quality and working on Great Lakes habitat restoration projects.
—The DNR wants permission to reallocate four positions to help regulate factory farms.
—The Department of Justice wants statutory changes allowing the state to cover its attorneys’ bar association dues. The Wisconsin State Bar Association currently charges $254 annually.
—State school officials requested $600,000 more to bolster grants for teachers who work in high-poverty districts such as Milwaukee.
—The state Department of Health Services wants $452 million more for Medicaid expenses. The last three state budgets increased state spending on Medicaid by $650 million, $685 million and $1.6 billion.
Walker will take agency budget requests into consideration as he crafts his executive budget. He’ll submit that spending plan to the Legislature early next year. Lawmakers will spend months revising it and likely will pass the final spending plan sometime next summer.
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